I think one of the first things that any filmmaker hears when they are just getting started, is that they have to network. They need to get out and meet people. To make connections that will lead to the next opportunity.
If you’re like me, that concept sounds terrifying. The image that instantly enters my mind is a large room full of other filmmakers, the deafening sound of numerous voices competing to be heard and the aggressive exchanging of business cards. Each trying to make their project sound more interesting and intriguing than all others in the room. Though I’m not someone people will describe as shy, I do have a very real fear of just walking up to a group of strangers and saying ‘Hi..I have a film I want to talk about’. Some people thrive in this setting. I do NOT.
The good news is that the term ‘networking’ is a very generic and broad concept. What you imagine it to be is just one of many ways you can network. We as filmmakers need to open our eyes to the different opportunities there are to meet other filmmakers and industry professionals. Then focus on the events we are drawn to and are comfortable in. Your best impression will be made when you’re confident in the setting. If you’re terrified or uncomfortable, you’re probably not putting your best foot forward.
For me the best type of networking opportunities, are ones that aren’t primarily a networking event, but where socializing does inherently occur. A great example of this, are film festivals. I’ve mentioned the benefit of attending film festivals in the past when trying to find your audience, but it’s also a great place to meet other industry people. For me, this setting is better than a traditional networking event because it allows me to introduce myself to a large group of people all at once in the form of a Q&A after our screening. Then when I attend other social gatherings during the festival, people are more likely to approach me. And because they’ve already seen an example of my work, you can have a more engaging and productive interaction.
Another great option is film school screenings. When you get invited to screenings of student films, attend. You should always be on the lookout for new talent. Film students have the skill of filmmaking fresh on their minds, but also lack a great deal of real world experience. You can create a wonderful win-win situation where you can offer an opportunity for a recent grad or current student to earn some credits, while at the same time getting their talents for less than you may have to pay a seasoned professional. Networking is not just reaching out to your peers and up to your mentors. It’s also reaching down to those less experienced than you. Film making is a collaborative art. The more you support others, the more others will support you.
Of course there are several industry events you can attend, especially if you live in NYC, LA or Austin. We reside on the East coast, so we try to attend IFP and the Producers Guild conference each year which are both great events. Also be on the look-out for Sundance Institute events which take place all over the country and beyond. We actually attended our first Sundance event at the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico. The West coast offers Film Independent and AFI events which are great places to expand your network of peers.
If you really want to forge some long-term relationships, consider volunteering to work with film festivals. By doing this, you’re networking in a very organic way and at the same time learning the inner workings of a film festival. Which on its own is an incredibly valuable experience.
If you’re looking for something more casual, then consider happy hours specifically for filmmakers. No matter where you live, with a little research you are sure to find local happy hour events in your area. The Blacklist also hosts monthly happy hours simultaneously nationwide. Can’t find any of these type of events in your area? Guess what? You’ve just found a need. Another great opportunity to meet people is to consider hosting an event yourself. Taking on the responsibility of hosting an event is a great learning experience as well as showing initiative and leadership. These qualities will quickly attract other industry contacts to you.
Which brings us to another important aspect of Networking. A great and lasting impression. Networking is similar to dating. Emphasis on DATING, not one-night stands. You should be looking to build long-term relationships with the people you meet and want to work with. So with in that in mind, let’s pretend you’re at a bar and you look across the room and see someone you are interested in dating. Should you walk up to them and say ‘Would you like to get married?’ NO!! They are going to run the other direction. Same thing goes for fostering an artistic relationship. Networking is not the same as Pitching your idea. I always respond better to people who let me get to know them as a person first, then begin to tell me about the kind of art they create. And then if we’re both interested, then we start talking about collaboration. If people get to know you as a person and enjoy your personality, they are more likely to remember you and want to work with you.
So obviously, we want to leave a great and positive impression. But sadly it needs to be said, you need to be careful not to make a bad impression. I’ve seen this happen many times where filmmakers get together at an event. Drinks are had, which is fine in moderation, but if you’re not careful, things can get out of control. Do not forget, film making is a business. Always maintain control when at these events. The first film people see of yours should not be an iPhone video of you doing a keg stand at a film festival after-party. Yes, they may remember you. But not for the reasons you want.
That’s the tricky part of being a filmmaker. Balancing the free-flowing world of art, while still understanding that it’s a business. Have fun, while still being professional.
So if you thrive at a traditional networking events, Great! Attend them. But if you are like me and struggle to find success in those environments. Never fear, you’re not alone. Just try one of the ideas above. Find situations that are comfortable for you. Without even trying, you’ll soon see your network of connections growing. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross someday. And no matter how much I beg, don’t let me do a keg-stand.